Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Did canine distemper arise from measles in the new world?

(I wrote this 9/2011, but I was mistakenly left as a draft until now.)

Six years ago I read that new world dogs (canis familiaris) died in large numbers after the European invasion.

So what killed the Amerindian dog?

I assumed it was some European plague, and I suspected distemper.
I'd guess distemper. Recently I read that wild African dogs are now dying of epidemic distemper. Seems to fit. The Euros carried viruses that killed many of the native americans, it's not surprising that their dogs would have done the same thing.
Recently I read of a twist to this story
Evidence of a New World Origin for Canine Distemper -- Uhl et al. 25 (1): 613.4 -- The FASEB Journal 
.... The historical, epidemiological, paleopathological and molecular evidence supports the hypothesis that canine distemper arose in the New World from MV after the European conquest....
The Europeans brought Measles from the old world. In the new world it produced massive epidemics with astounding mortality. Tens of millions of native Americans died of Measles and other Old World diseases.

As is seen with other plagues, under these circumstances the measles virus jumped species. It went from humans to their dogs. It may have been even more lethal in the dogs of the 1500s.

Why didn't it then go back to Europe and wipe out the European dog? Did the virus adapt to its new host so it became less lethal? Could a historian who knew what to look for find evidence of massive die offs in European dogs in the 16th century?

I suspect we'll find out in the next year or two.

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